By Finian Coghlan
KILDARE County Council hopes to be handing over keys to new tenants in the controversial Toberton Wood estate in Johnstown within a few weeks.
As was reported here last week, there was some disquiet in the picturesque village when it was discovered that the County Council had done a deal with developer Ardstone Homes to take out a 25-year lease on the 49 homes in the estate for social housing, currently being finished out.
However, as a sort of olive branch to the community concerning the shortfall of amenities in the village it is confirmed that “the derelict Garden Centre is registered to Kildare County Council and intended for recreation and amenity use. Contracts are in the process of being finalised to make the site available for this purpose”.
At this week’s September meeting of the Naas Municipal District Cllr Fintan Brett asked the Council “to explain the rationale for [this] in a village where no amenities exist for children?”
Siobhan Scully from the Housing Section confirmed that Kildare County Council is proposing to lease 49 houses at Toberton Wood, and that “the proposal is being advanced in association with the Housing Agency”.
“The ‘Agreement for Lease’ is now at an advanced stage and rents have been agreed,” she added.
“The council will submit a proposal to the Department for approval on receipt of the final delivery schedule and completion the ‘Part V’ agreement,” she said.
This is mechanism from the Planning and Development Act 2000 which dictates that local authorities can obtain up to 10 per cent of land zoned for housing development at “existing use value” rather than at “development value”.
“It is anticipated that the first 20 houses in this scheme will be delivered in late September, or early October,” confirmed Ms Scully.
“All of the above leased properties will be furnished by the developer and allocations will be made from the council’s current social housing list,” she stated.
Ms Scully pointed out that the provision of social housing at this location is in accordance with the Government’s housing policy.
“The Department of Housing was advised in February 2020 that the council was in the process of negotiation of a long term lease on this scheme [and] the members of Naas Municipal District were advised of this proposal in March 2020,” she stated.
“The planning permission granted did not require the provision of any additional amenities,” she concluded.
Cllr Brett called this “very positive”, and pointed out that the “biggest bugbear [of the existing residents] was they didn’t know it was happening on this scale”.
“However, every village in Ireland has had to pull its weight on this, and we have a duty to welcome these people,” he said.
This sentiment was echoed by Frank Moore, treasurer of the Johnstown Community Association (JCA), after he had been to a clarification meeting with Executive staff that morning.
“This is the first time there’s social housing within Johnstown, and percentage-wise will now be the same as other towns and villages in Kildare,” he said afterwards.
“This was their justification for putting them in,” he said.
He added that the JCA would still write to the Minister for Housing to suggest that “the manner in which the Housing Authority went ahead without consultation is improper, and that it’s not good value for the taxpayer”.
“It seems to be a win-win for the developer – getting a 25-year lease, and still owning them in the end,” he pointed out.
However, he did say the JCA got an assurance from the Council “that they would look at the shortfall of amenities in the village”.
“We gave them a list of things we feel we need to be done,” he said, “and we’re happy with that, if they do what they say”.
“We do want these people [coming to Toberton] to become part of the community, and to get them involved in the things we need in Johnstown,” he concluded.
The Council has done this under the Enhanced Long Term Social Housing Scheme – a new vehicle for housing provision under the ‘Rebuilding Ireland – An Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness’ policy instigated under the last Government.
This is not the first such move in Kildare under this Scheme, with similar leasings happening in Derrinturn, Celbridge, Clane, and a further 200 homes at two locations in Naas Piper’s Hill, and Craddockstown.